Citrus

Overwintering citrus trees and how to care for them during winter

Last updated on March 30th, 2022

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If you are growing a citrus tree, the best way to keep it healthy and happy in a slightly colder environment is to grow them in a container. If you are growing a citrus tree in a pot, it also makes it easier for you to provide the right protection when winter comes because they can easily be moved indoors or into a greenhouse over winter.

You can check out some of the best citrus trees for pots in this guide by clicking here

Why weather matters

Citrus trees aren’t native to Britain. The weather is too cold for many if not all large citrus trees, but smaller hybrids like Clementines and Meyer lemons, even Kumquats, can be more tolerant of slightly cooler temperatures most of the year but even these need to be brought indoors in winter.

Still, they need adequate sunlight and warm temperatures when winter comes around. Growing them in containers makes it easier to move them indoors and provides the right level of protection in bad weather.


Different types of citrus trees

The type of citrus tree you have will directly influence how tolerant it is to a cold temperature, but in general, it’s much safer to bring them indoors before the nights start to get cooler. 

Tender citrus trees

Sweet oranges, Tahiti limes, Mandarins, Kumquats, and grapefruits need to stay above 5°C minimum, ideally even warmer. They should be moved inside before temperatures drop at night below 5°C and you shouldn’t put them back outside until the end of spring once the day and night temperatures are warmer again and the risk of frost has passed.

Hardier citrus trees

Lemons and Kaffir limes can tolerate temperatures down to 0°C and for short amounts of time, temperatures that are -1°C to -2°C. If you have a mild winter, you can keep your trees outside, but you should still make sure they aren’t sitting in water and are protected from a lot of rain and snow.

Too much rain can lead to root rot and the same is said of snow if you leave compact snow on top of the soil. So always keep your eye out for this and make sure that the root ball doesn’t freeze and the roots aren’t sitting in water. Even though they are hardy to an extent, we still recommend bringing them indoors so they don’t get caught out in a sudden temperature drop.


How to care for citrus trees over winter

Citrus trees are very popular to grow outdoors in summer and then brought indoors over winter. They need a bright sunny position and are best grown in pots.

Ideally, you want to move your plants indoors during the winter. Growing them in pots might make it easier to move them inside when the weather turns, which is why we always recommend growing citrus in containers. This simply affords your citrus tree warmer temperatures, whether it is inside your home or in a greenhouse.

When you bring them inside, they still need access to sunlight, so it’s best to put them near a window where they can get as many hours of direct sunlight as possible. Sunlight is very important and if they don’t get enough sunlight the leaves can start to droop.

Position

If you are leaving your citrus trees outdoors when the weather turns at the end of summer all the way through until the beginning of spring. Even if only for a few months, you want to position them such that they get sunlight all the time and have access to temperatures around 5°C. Still, it’s safer to get them indoors sooner rather than later.

Where not to position your citrus tree

If your plant is inside make sure you keep it away from a radiator or underfloor heating and pick a place that’s free from any temperature fluctuations so away from outer doors that will cause a short period of cold drafts from outside. What they need is a consistent temperature, ideally around 10°C minimum, a little warmer for oranges, and plenty of light.

Learn more about growing citrus trees in pots.


What if you cannot bring them indoors?

If you cannot bring them inside, you can wrap them with horticultural fleece and wrap the pot in lagging or bubble wrap, and bring them up against the wall of your home for additional protection.

Again you want to make sure they are protected from the majority of downpours, heavy winds, and too much snow. If it’s going to be very cold at night, it might be better to move your tree somewhere slightly more permanent, at least for the winter, rather than going out every day and moving it indoors at night and then bringing it back outside in the morning. 


Feeding citrus trees in winter

Lemon tree growing in container indoors

Even in the winter, it is best to use a winter citrus feed to keep your plants healthy and happy. You should use a winter feed every other watering to give it the right amount of phosphorus and potassium during the winter.

Vitax Citrus Feed for Winter Soluble Plant Feeds,
  • Carefully balanced to maintain growth
  • Helps prevent premature leaf fall and discolouration
  • Apply weekly from October to March
Vitax 200g Citrus Feed for Summer
  • High nitrogen content is ideal for citrus plants
  • Discourages premature ripening, fruit drop and leaf discolouration
  • Apply weekly from April to September

Watering citrus trees in winter

During the winter, whether the plant is indoors or protected outside, you should still give it regular watering as necessary. Check on the soil itself, and see if it’s dry to the touch before you add more water. The most significant risk citrus trees face in winter is being damaged from root rot because they are sitting in too much water.

In fact, if you bring it indoors, you may only need to spray it with a mister periodically. To give you an idea you will probably go from watering daily to watering a couple of times a month in winter. Overwatering in winter is one of the most common causes of leaf drop.


Problems

Lemon trees are a little susceptible to dropping there leaves so we decided to write a guide on how to revive a Meyer Lemon Tree with no leaves. Learn more

Leaves drooping and dropping

During the winter, you need to be on the lookout for leaf drop. If the temperatures change dramatically, it can cause the leaves to fall. When the skies get darker and the days get shorter, the limited light makes it difficult on certain citrus trees and this can cause the leaves to droop and even drop.

If this is the cause, once the days get longer and more sunlight appears, the leaves will be replaced. So if you notice just a handful of leaves dropping, especially during January and February, don’t worry. But if you notice a lot of leaves dropping, you might want to consider changing the position so that the temperatures remain steady and consider if you have overwatered.

Pests

If you notice any signs of pests, if you see holes in the leaves or stickiness, even white mould, treat it as soon as possible. Bringing your plant indoors over winter provides warm conditions that can become a breeding ground for things like aphids, mealybugs, and red spider mites.

SBM Life Science 80585047 Provanto Ultimate Fruit & Vegetable Bug Killer RTU 1L
  • Kills most common insect pests on a comprehensive range of fruit and vegetable plants such as apples and pears.
  • Contact insecticide that can protect from pests for up to 2 weeks.
  • Ideal for Grow your own.
  • Kills and controls greenfly, blackfly, caterpillars, beetles, weevils, apple & pear suckers, capsids, sawfly, whitefly.

Overall, making sure the plant is warm, dry, and properly fed will go a long way toward keeping your harvest bountiful and giving you a reliable citrus tree that produces fruit year after year.

Learn more about different citrus tree problems in this guide by clicking here

Image credits – Shutterstock.com

Last update on 2022-03-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Welcome to my site, my name is John and I have been lucky enough to work in horticultural nurseries for over 15 years in the UK. As the founder and editor as well as researcher, I have a City & Guilds Horticultural Qualifications which I proudly display on our About us page. I now work full time on this website where I review the very best gardening products and tools and write reliable gardening guides. Behind this site is an actual real person who has worked and has experience with the types of products we review as well as years of knowledge on the topics we cover from actual experience. You can reach out to me at john@pyracantha.co.uk

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